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STOP #267

Our route today was a little longer than we like. We prefer to travel between 100-150 miles at a time, but when you're in the state of Texas, 100 miles doesn't even get you a change of scenery sometimes.

Rather than try to cross over the Davis Mountains we decided to backtrack south about 20 miles through the artsy town of Marfa. Marfa is known for an odd phenomenon called The Marfa Lights and onlookers have attributed them to paranormal phenomena such as ghosts, UFOs, or will-o'-the-wisp. They only appear at night and we were traveling through mid-morning so no mysterious lights for us.

What caught us completely by surprise were these plywood billboards on the side on Texas Route 90 about seven miles west of Marfa. They depict scenes from the 1956 movie titled "Giant", starring James Dean, Liz Taylor and Rock Hudson who is behind the wheel of the yellow automobile. We later learned the billboards are located on the property of where some scenes in the movie were actually shot.

We were lucky that Tricia was quick enough to grab this photo as we sped by at 55MPH.

It was about 15-minutes later we spotted something white in color, high up in the sky ahead of us. No it wasn't a cloud! It didn't appear to be moving and for the next 15-minutes it kept getting larger as we kept getting closer. When we passed the spot where it was anchored to the ground it was obvious it was some kind of blimp.

It is called a Tethered Aerostat Radar System and is controlled by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Agencies. It's used to keep tabs on slow and low flying airplanes who would normally be invisible to standard radar efforts. There are several such blimps along our southern border and this is all done in an effort to curb drug trafficing.

At first we thought it might be a UFO, but we eventually identified it.

The third discovery of the day is the only one we knew about in advance. It's called the Prada Marfa and is well known by the RVing crowd. Even though it's located 26-miles west of Marfa in the tiny town of Valentine (pop. 134) we felt it was worth a stop to explore.

The store has a very interesting past for being only 17-years old and you can read all about by following this LINK.

The store is literally in the middle of nowhere!

Do you think those shoes and purses are real Prada product in there?

I can't tell Prada from Walmart when it comes to high heels and purses!

Texas Route 90 eventually led us to Interstate 10 where we upped our speed to 60MPH, even though the limit was 80MPH. By the time we were passing the town of Sierra Blanca we were getting hungry, so we pulled off the road and ate lunch in the parking lot of a closed and abandoned restaurant.

After lunch we were back on Interstate 10 heading for El Paso when we passed the exit for Fort Hancock, TX.

Let's see in the comments if any of you movie buffs know the significance between Fort Hancock and the 1994 movie starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. I instantly recognized the town's name, but had no idea it was a real place. Bonus Points if you know the other town's name that is connected to Fort Hancock in the storyline and Triple Bonus Points if you can spell it correctly! NO GOOGLING ALLOWED!

After nearly five hours on the road we arrived at Hueco Tanks State Park in Texas and were warmly greeting by a Park Ranger in the check-in office. I was handed an 8-1/2x11 sheet of paper with typewritten rules printed on one side that I had to read and sign a form stating I would follow all the rules while in the park.

Then I was told we would have to view an orientation film and have another ranger/volunteer explain why there are so many rules. All this before we were allowed to enter the campground. It wasn't a big deal and was actually quite informative and interesting.

If you want to explore any of the park outside of the campground, like the hiking trails and rock climbing areas, you'll have to return to the check-in office and obtain a free day use permit. They only issue a small number each day, like maybe 70, so it's important to get there early in the morning. If you want to go on the Ranger led guided hike you'll need another permit and pay $2 each for the experience.

We signed up for the guided hike on Wednesday morning and elected to do a self-guided hike on Tuesday, but you can't get the permits in advance, you have to go back to the office the day of your event to get the permit.

There is also a 3-day limit on camping here, much shorter than the 14-day limit in all other Texas State Parks, and only 20 sites to choose from and some of those are tent only sites.

All in all we are glad we're here for a visit. One other thing, the gate to the park closes at 6:00PM and you are not permitted to leave or return after that, unless it's an emergency situation. This they informed us of several times to reinforce the rule.

Our site backs up to the base of East Mountain.

Here is the view out our rear windows.

Our welcoming committee was at the rear of our campsite driveway waiting for us to arrive.

TUESDAY - This morning we are going to walk five short trails round the North Mountain that add up to just 2-miles round trip. The Pond Trail is .86 miles long (round trip) and all the other four trails spur off of it. The trailhead is conveniently located behind the Interpretive Center where we received our orientation from the ranger yesterday afternoon.

WEDNESDAY - Today we will revisit some of the sites we saw yesterday, but this time we'll have a Park Ranger along with us to explain just what it is we're looking at. Also they'll point out a lot of things we didn't even know we were missing. Then we'll visit an area of the park that was off limits to us yesterday because we didn't have a guide with us.


Don't get caught on the other side on this sign or you'll be facing a pretty hefty penalty.
One of the many bridges that span across dry creek beds.
Yet another variety of cactus we haven't seen before.
Some of the trees here are just beginning to bloom.
The Prickly Pear Cactus are beginning to also bloom.
A good portion of the hiking paths are on level ground.
Then they gain elevation when approaching the mountains.
This is a visual depiction of the pictographs we are searching for at our first stop.
Unfortunately most of the panel had to be sand blasted to remove some recent graffiti that was painted over it in the 1970s.
Some up close views of the panel.
Another depiction of the panel we are searching for at our second stop today.
Can you see the snake's head with the yellow eyes and black tongue?
This is the rest of the panel where people felt the need to carve or paint their names over the centuries old pictograph.
Most of the dates are from the 1800s and these carvings are considered "historical graffiti".
Why not do what this person did and mark your name where no pictographs are already there?
A bridge leading up to the basin between the three mountains at Hueco Tanks.
This is the beginning of the Chain Trial. It's only 1/8 of a mile long, but it's all straight up!
Chain Trail leads to the summit of North Mountain.
The view from the top looking back down to the parking lot.
You can see the large dried up pond behind the Interpretive Center from up here.
North Mountain is where all the rock climbers practice their hobby.
Although this mustachioed guy is there to remind them there are some off limits area too.
The top of North Mountain is where we found our first "mask" pictograph.
Back on the ground now and a view of the large pond behind the Interpretive Center.
Also behind the Interpretive Center is this small cave.
It is here we located some more pictographs.
These walled structures in front of the Interpretive Center were used as corrals.
We saw these two holes in the rock yesterday but didn't realize they were manmade to use as a mortar for grinding food and possibly creating the paint used for the pictographs.
The Ranger shared with us pieces of pottery found in Hueco Tanks over the years.
We are finally getting to a restricted area of the park. First we'll have to scramble up and over this manmade dam.
Looking at the top of the dam from slightly above it.
It was a pretty large undertaking to create by hand, back in the 1850s.
Above the dam we saw more "mask pictographs". Here are three of them.
Just after seeing the masks I elected not to go to the end of the trail. I stayed back and waited for the rest to return. Tricia took this photo of me in my green shirt from the end of the trail. Can you spot me near the center of the photo?
By going to the end of the trail Tricia was rewarded with viewing all the following pictographs.
This one came with a long story of what it is believed to represent.

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